WORLD CLASS EVENT Thousands of spectators lined the opening stretch of the Amgen Tour of California’s May 16 time trial on Monterey Road, cheering each competitor as they rounded the first turn onto West Dunne Avenue to start the 21.6-mile loop. The event broadcast images of Morgan Hill all over the world and brought thousands of visitors to town.

As 2018 approaches its end, it seems much of the year’s excitement in the local news has been concentrated in the last few weeks: new elected officials, the county’s purchase of St. Louise Regional Hospital, a nationwide romaine lettuce scare, another chapter closed in the ongoing effort to build a Catholic high school in southeast Morgan Hill, a mid-November smoky hellscape from Northern California fires, and so forth.  

This week and next, the Times takes a look back through 2018 and reflects on some of the most memorable, inspiring, harrowing, uplifting and unusual moments in Morgan Hill and South County over the last 12 months.

As usual, City Hall was busy throughout 2018—mostly with ongoing development requests, approvals, delays and more. But perhaps the city’s biggest accomplishment this year was attracting the Amgen Tour of California Stage 4 Time Trial to Morgan Hill. On May 16, the tour brought nearly 120 of the world’s best cyclists—including some of the sport’s household names like Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish—and thousands of visitors to downtown Morgan Hill and western foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains.

The 21.6-mile loop—which requires competitors to continuously stomp the pedals in order to finish anywhere close to the best time—started and finished in the city’s downtown, and the course route was closed to vehicle traffic. The time trial also featured a cycling festival downtown, with vendors and giant TV screens broadcasting the event live as they surreally depicted Morgan Hill and the area’s rolling hills and ranchlands for the world to see.

The tour’s choice of Morgan Hill as a venue was due to the promotion efforts of the city’s economic development crew and other City Hall officials.

“We would love to have you come back to Morgan Hill!” Mayor Steve Tate exclaimed May 16 on the finish line stage, after the last cyclist finished the course. And the tour is coming back to Morgan Hill in 2019: The city will host the event’s Stage 3 finish line May 14.

Police incidents

Morgan Hill Police and other South County emergency personnel responded to some unexpected and, at times, frightening incidents in 2018. One such instance was the April 27 Britton Carnival, where an annual family-friendly fundraiser that draws hundreds of students and parents for fun and games turned into an all-out brawl. Some juvenile patrons of the carnival clashed with local police, who had to call in reinforcements from surrounding cities.

The ugly events that transpired cost Britton more than $20,000 in fundraising and a lasting scar on its reputation. The school’s only fundraiser, organized by the Home and School Club, covers everything from assemblies, field trips and dances to sports programs, athletic equipment and technology.

The melee, which involved more than 60 police officers arriving at the scene and the arrest of eight local juveniles brought up on multiple charges, put an end to the longstanding carnival fundraiser for not only to 2018 but quite possibly forever.

Then just two days later, on April 29, a Morgan Hill officer accidentally fired his service gun into the ground during a traffic stop, resulting in injuries to a teenage girl. The accident happened in the area of Llagas and Del Monte avenues at the end of pursuit of a stolen vehicle.

The officer, a 23-year veteran of MHPD, was placed on administrative leave following the incident. MHPD asked the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office to investigate the shooting, but that office has not yet released its findings.

RUSH HOUR LANDING In one of the unlikeliest public safety stories of the year, on Feb. 18 a pilot out of Aptos made an emergency landing on US 101 in San Martin. The pilot, Wayne Wright, was flying a single-engine aircraft when the plane’s motor began to fail above San Jose. Wright made a split-second decision to make an emergency landing on the median of the freeway, thinking he might not make it to the nearby San Martin Airport. The decision resulted in a safe landing for the pilot and motorists on the ground.

Downtown development

Development activity continued in the downtown neighborhood throughout 2018, though not all the projects remain on schedule.

City Hall itself acquired more downtown property, with the purchase a $925,000 parcel near the intersection of Depot and First streets in April. The city is using the property, along with the site next door which they purchased in 2017, for parking. But they hope to develop the land for affordable housing in the future.

While Willard Hicks restaurant opened in July to considerable fanfare in the new building near the intersection of Monterey Road and Third Street, the other three eateries promised at the new development haven’t moved in. Opa, Mo’s and Tac-Oh announced their plans to occupy the space in 2017 but have yet to move in.

And while the Granada Hotel, developed by Frank Leal in 2016, continues to bustle with corporate events and weekend dinner shows, Leal’s hotel proposal next door hasn’t gotten off the ground. Leal has proposed the “boutique” Granada Hotel at the former site of the Downtown Mall, which has been a patch of untouched dirt for several months.

The City Ventures and Sunsweet residential/commercial projects along Depot Street are active construction sites every day. Those developments will add scores of new residential units to the city’s downtown. Weston Miles Architects in 2018 completed the Granary District of condominiums, offices and commercial shops—including Bike Therapy, the Grape Vine and Running Shop and Hops—along Depot Street near the intersection of East Main Avenue.

Restaurateur Dan McCranie has yet to break ground on a rooftop dining and art gallery he proposed to the city in 2016. That project was proposed at the intersection of Monterey Road and Second Street. The property remains a “pop-up park.”

And on the other side of Monterey Road at Second Street, the former Royal Clothier and Tryst building has enjoyed an extensive remodel to open a restaurant but remains unoccupied.

Land use concerns

Conflicting views of local land use continued to dominate many South County residents’ lives in 2018.

This was the case with the release this summer of the proposed Cordoba Center’s Environmental Impact Report. The mosque and community center project is proposed by the South Valley Islamic Community on Monterey Road near California Avenue in San Martin.

The project has been in the initial planning stages for years, but the release of the EIR marks a key milestone in making the mosque a reality. After county planning staff and the public have completed a review of the study of the property, county officials will begin the project permitting and approval process, which will likely last through 2019.

This summer’s public hearings on the Cordoba Center EIR again drew standing-room-only crowds. Many San Martin residents worry the size of the project will create sizable traffic and other impacts that will encroach on their rural lifestyle. Supporters of the project say all potential impacts will be minimized and the mosque and community center will fill an essential need for a religious facility for local Muslims.

More recently in Morgan Hill, murmurs of a new Catholic high school in the Southeast Quadrant came after the Morgan Hill City Council in September approved plans to annex the San Jose Diocese’s land in the area of Murphy and Tennant avenues. However, the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) rejected the new plan this month, possibly crushing all hope of building a South County Catholic High School. Commissioners were hesitant to allow the diocese and city to build on the longtime farmland, despite the city’s plan to require the builder to purchase agricultural easements elsewhere in town.

In 2019, city and county officials will likely continue to butt heads over what is the best way to preserve farmland while respecting property owners in the Southeast Quadrant.

BICYCLING BIRD A parrot on a bicycle is an unlikely sight, but it happened in Morgan Hill in 2018. On Aug. 7, students from San Martin/Gwinn Elementary were treated to a special visit from some famous feathered friends. Julie Cardoza and husband Ed brought their Happy Birds program to the school. The birds performed a unique show featuring more than 25 tricks—including riding a bicycle—for nearly 40 students. Pictured here is Gordon, a 16-year-old blue hyacinth macaw, working on his cycling skills during the Aug. 7 show.
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